Call Me Madam – music by Irving Berlin, book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, London to 10 October 2021. 4**** stars. William Russell.

Based on the at the time celebrated Perle Mesta, a Washington society hostess sent as an ambassador by Harry Truman to Luxembourg this 1950 musical is blessed with one of Berlin’s most tuneful scores and provided Ethel Merman with one of the best in her long career. To be honest the joke is now stone dead, the book seems trite, whatever political wit it had has evaporated and Act Two could do with another song. It always did.
But director Mark Geisser keeps things moving along at top speed assisted by some brisk dance routines choreographed by Aimee Leigh and a cast up for anything. He also has a leading lady in Rosemary Ashe as Sally Adams, the Ambassador sent to Lichtenstein, who can belt those songs out in the manner they demand. She is simply superb, managing to be funny, endearing – the character in reality is rather ghastly – and eye catching throughout in a series of amazing gowns. She is not the only good thing. Richard Gibson makes a distinguished and gracious Cosmo Constantine while Daniel Breakwell is a suitably gauche and charming Kenneth, her secretary.In a role which barely exists, that of the Princess, the marvellous Beth Burrows does what she can with next to nothing, which is quite a lot.The film, which was more than a star vehicle for Merman, carefully built it up for Vera Ellen. The rest of the cast play lots of roles, dance very well indeed and manage to make what would have been production numbers look like they are. Director Geisser has given it the kiss of life, but in the end the evening belongs to the songstress with the mostest – Rosemary Ashe – and to those Berlin songs. You do leave the theatre humming them.

Sally Adams: Rosemary Ashe.
Cosmo Constantine: Richard Gibson.
Princess Maria: Beth Burrows.
Kenneth Gibson: Daniel Breakwell.
Senator Gallagher: Kevin Walsh.
Senator Brockbank: Zoe Ann Bown.
Henry Gibson: Andrew Wheaton.
Congresswoman Wilkins: Chrissie Perkins.
Secretary to Mrs Adams: Georgie Faith.
Rest of the parts played by members of the company.

Director: Mark Giesser.
Musical Director & Orchestration: Jessica Douglas.
Choreographer: Mollie Cheek.
Costume Design: Katie Helen Unwin.
Lighting Design: Sam M Owen.
Sound Design: Toby Burrow.
Photography: Flavia Fraser-Cannon.

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